On the day Gov. Greg Abbott’s latest order took effect, North Texans gathered to celebrate the state being more open and freedoms being restored.

On Wednesday, March 10, Abbott’s new order rescinded a majority of his prior restrictions relating to the coronavirus, including the statewide mask mandate.

That evening at “The Official Texas is Now Open Party” in Parker, a crowd came together in a fellow citizen’s backyard to celebrate. Food and refreshments were plentiful, lights illuminated the patio, and the air was filled with conversation while a musician serenaded the crowd.

Emotions were the polar opposite from mere months ago, when Texans wondered if they’d be fined by local or state officials for having a celebration as large as this, especially without practicing social distancing or wearing masks.

Some citizens weren’t shy about sharing their opinions about Abbott’s mandate.

“I have been anti-mask from the very beginning,” BJ Bjorklund said. “I cannot be happier.”

“It should have never happened,” Kelly said.

“I don’t think it should have been a mandate, ever,” Collette Heinz said, adding people should have been allowed to decide for themselves.

“It didn’t happen in South Dakota, and they were fine,” Nina V. said.

“I felt like it was imposing on our rights,” Linda said. “Honestly, I understood it partially in the beginning. But then as it went on, it was more about control.” Her husband, Lindy, added, “I just think that we should have protected the people that needed protecting. It’s the first time ever that we quarantined people that were healthy. That’s kind of silly.”

“[Abbott’s] opening up fully, but look at these other red states,” Justin V. pointed out. “They’ve been doing it for months now [and] haven’t had any issues.”

The party also featured a special fire pit, which several people used to burn their masks.

But Abbott’s mask mandate wasn’t the only concern mentioned that night.

“I was really upset about restrictions on churches; I felt like they were targeted,” Susan Cohrs said. “I feel like people should have been able to go to church the entire time.”

Serena Ashcroft, while happy that Abbott’s mask mandate is gone, is still concerned about school district mandates. “Now we need to get [masks] off our kids in school,” she said.

Ashcroft referenced a recent CDC study that found no statistical difference in Chinese coronavirus cases or deaths after mask mandates were issued nationwide. However, despite this and the lifting of Abbott’s mandate, her local school district is resisting change.

“They just said they have no plans to change the current protocols in place,” she said. “We don’t even know how each individual school board member feels. They’re always hiding behind the TEA or the CDC. Our superintendent promised us—through emails and in person—that he would make [masks] optional as soon as Abbott lifted the mandate, and they have not done that.”

Kathleen Lieberman shared a personal struggle she experienced during the lockdowns.

“My daughter was diagnosed with cancer this summer, and I couldn’t even be in the hospital when they diagnosed her,” she said. “I just wasn’t gonna accept that, and I brought her home, and she’s still alive.”

Lieberman differed with others in her opinion of Abbott, however.

“He understands that in order to be elected as governor, he has to serve all the people and not just a certain group of people,” she said. “I’m going to say he’s doing the best he can. He’s been given almost impossible odds, and I’m going to respect that for what it is.”

Several people spoke at the party, including Shelley Luther—who skyrocketed to national prominence last summer by becoming the face of small businesses suffering under Abbott’s ordered shutdown.

“We’re celebrating our freedom. We’re celebrating getting rid of the masks,” she told her fellow Texans. “I just want to tell you, you already had that freedom. Our stupid government is just figuring it out.”

She also warned those praising House Bill 3, the omnibus bill criticized for expanding and codifying the emergency powers used by Abbott since the beginning of the coronavirus disaster declaration.

“Not only are they giving him the powers, now they’re admitting the powers that he took the whole [of] last year weren’t real,” Luther explained. “If you have not contacted your [state representative], you are responsible for [HB 3] going through. And if you don’t vote them out, you are responsible for what happens.”

You are responsible for being knowledgeable, and I will tell you I was the first person to not be. I was ignorant to what was going on until it affected me personally. And now I’m mad. You should be, too.

Few people, if any, seemed open to the idea of government overreach becoming the new normal. But for this night, Texans shared joy and relief that their state is now more open.

Robert Montoya

Born in Houston, Robert Montoya is an investigative reporter for Texas Scorecard. He believes transparency is the obligation of government.

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